I did this the past three years, and I thought it would be pretty fun to do it again. It's exactly what it sounds like - if free agency occurred in a draft format, who would be the top picks? I've excluded all the free agents who are either restricted or franchised.
Houston Texans: Jairus Byrd, S, Bills. Age: 27.
Safety isn't Houston's biggest need, and it's a position the team probably won't address this offseason, outside of depth purposes, but Jairus Byrd is the top free agent available. Byrd makes sense because while the Texans' safety group isn't a weakness, it's not exactly a strength either. Danieal Manning could be a cap casualty, while D.J. Swearinger and Shiloh Keo are just average. The former, a 2013 second-rounder, has potential, but Keo can be upgraded.
St. Louis Rams: T.J. Ward, S, Browns. Age: 27.
It's not surprising that the two safeties are at the top of this free agent mock draft; they are, after all, the impending free agents who have been discussed the most.
The Rams would obviously love to land either safety. They have a couple of holes in their secondary, including one right next to T.J. McDonald.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Bennett, DE, Seahawks. Age: 28.
Michael Bennett thrived in Seattle's defensive system. The Jaguars run the same scheme, so Bennett would be an obvious fit. Bennett would automatically become Jacksonville's best defensive player, and he'd provide an unbelievable boost to a stop unit that ranked dead last in sacks.
Cleveland Browns: Vontae Davis, CB, Colts. Age: 26.
The Browns' top needs don't really match up with the best free agents available, but they could certainly use another stud defensive back after losing T.J. Ward to the Rams in this free agent mock draft.
Vontae Davis is arguably the top cornerback on the market, so can you imagine him being paired with Joe Haden? How would opposing teams throw on the Browns?
Oakland Raiders: Lamarr Houston, DE, Raiders. Age: 27.
I'm not sure if general manager Reggie McKenzie is aware that he had the ability to use this thing called the "franchise tag" on one of his players to keep them from leaving. McKenzie's ignorance is the only logical explanation I can come up with for the Raiders not tagging either Lamarr Houston or Jared Veldheer despite having tons of available cap space. Maybe McKenzie really wants to keep his best defensive player... but he just doesn't know that he can.
Atlanta Falcons: Jared Allen, DE, Vikings. Age: 32.
The Falcons have a habit of signing older players in free agency, and Jared Allen would fit right in. Thomas Dimitroff would hope that Allen could fix one of the NFL's worst pass rushes. Atlanta obviously needs to improve in this area to beat Drew Brees and Cam Newton.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Eugene Monroe, OT, Ravens. Age: 27.
There has been speculation that the Buccaneers could release Donald Penn, which would open up a big hole at left tackle. This is why I have them selecting Jake Matthews in my 2014 NFL Mock Draft. Eugene Monroe would also be a huge upgrade on the blind side.
Minnesota Vikings: Captain Munnerlyn, CB, Panthers. Age: 26.
Unless a quarterback falls to them, the Vikings will almost certainly choose the best defensive player at No. 8. That happens to be the case in my free agent mock draft as well. Xavier Rhodes was awesome as a rookie for Minnesota this past season, but the team desperately needs an upgrade across from him.
Buffalo Bills: Branden Albert, OT/G, Chiefs. Age: 29.
This is another situation where needs don't match up with the top players on the board. The Bills would definitely consider someone like Branden Albert though. They are fine at left tackle, but they could ask for Albert to either play on the right side or provide an upgrade on the interior. Albert is fully capable of being a guard, and the Bills need one after losing Andy Levitre the previous offseason.
Detroit Lions: Sam Shields, CB, Packers. Age: 26.
I have the Lions choosing a cornerback in my 2014 NFL Mock Draft, so this selection obviously makes sense. As an added perk, the Lions get to steal a key defensive player from their arch rival.
Tennessee Titans: Alterraun Verner, CB, Titans. Age: 25.
The Titans are the second team in this free agent mock draft to keep one of their own. Alterraun Verner may prove to be too expensive for Tennessee in real life, but the front office won't have to worry about that if it could just select him.
New York Giants: Michael Johnson, DE, Bengals. Age: 27.
The Giants will probably lose Justin Tuck this offseason. Addressing the pass rush will be key, as they'll need an upgrade across from Jason Pierre-Paul. Michael Johnson is the best player available who can get to the quarterback.
St. Louis Rams: Jared Veldheer, OT, Raiders. Age: 27.
I'm not sure if the Rams' tackle situation is as bad as some are making it out to be, given that Joseph Barksdale played very well at right tackle down the stretch. If Jake Long can be ready for Week 1, St. Louis will be set there. However, there might be some pessimism toward Long being ready. If so, Jared Veldheer would make sense.
Chicago Bears: Randy Starks, DT, Dolphins. Age: 30.
Like the Vikings, Chicago will be choosing the best defensive player available. That would arguably be Randy Starks, who would fill a huge void in the interior of the defensive line. The Bears' defensive front was awful last year.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Arthur Jones, DE/DT, Ravens. Age: 28.
As with the Lions and Sam Shields, Pittsburgh has a chance to nab a key defender from their arch rival. Arthur Jones would fill a big need on the defensive line, as Ziggy Hood has never developed into the player the Steelers envisioned when they used a first-round pick on him.
Dallas Cowboys: Linval Joseph, DT, Giants. Age: 25.
And yet another example of intra-divisional thievery. The Cowboys are another team with a huge void at defensive tackle, thanks in part to last year's horrible drafting. Linval Joseph would be a big upgrade over what Dallas currently has.